WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As House members are at home for the Columbus Day weekend, a coalition of labor and advocacy groups is stepping up the battle over the federal children's health-care program, known as SCHIP.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she hopes to "peel off" 14 Republican votes for the SCHIP bill.
The coalition, which includes the AFL-CIO and MoveOn.org, rolled out a nearly $1 million television ad campaign and is targeting about 20 Republicans to vote to override the president's veto of the bill.
The national ad, sponsored by Americans United for Change, an umbrella group of liberal organizations, is running on cable networks.
It includes images of a baby and other children with an announcer saying "George Bush just vetoed Abby." The coalition also promises to rally activists in districts of another 20 House Republicans over the next two weeks.
This push by Democratic groups comes on top of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's efforts to zero in on eight House Republicans who opposed the bill. The campaign arm started running radio ads and funding automated calls to voters last week in districts it considers competitive for Democratic challengers. Watch Speaker Nancy Pelosi call for the override of Bush's veto »
Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, sounded cautiously optimistic in an interview with Fox News about her party's chances.
"We take it one day at a time," Pelosi said, adding that Democrats needed "less than 20 votes" in the House to get the two-thirds vote required to override the veto. Pelosi admitted Democrats needed to "peel off" 14 Republicans who voted against the bill last month.
A vote in the House is scheduled for October 18.
On Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told the Associated Press he expected the House to sustain the president's veto.
Leavitt also told the AP President Bush was willing to work with Democrats to reauthorize the current program, which covers children from families with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level, and to increase funding by 20 percent.
"The president knows bad policy when he sees it," Leavitt told the AP. "But we need to have a serious conversation that involves all of the points of view."
In his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush said, "If putting poor children first takes a little more than the 20 percent increase I have proposed in my budget for SCHIP, I am willing to work with leaders in Congress to find the additional money."
Forty-five Republicans voted with the Democrats on September 25 to reauthorize the program and direct $35 billion over the next five years to states to cover children's health-care costs. Eight Democrats voted against the bill.
Despite the two-week delay on the override vote, designed to pressure Republicans, House GOP leaders sounded confident heading into the weekend that there would not be any additional Republican defections. House GOP Whip Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, predicted Wednesday the number of Republican votes against the measure "will go up, not down."
House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, R-Florida, said Thursday that GOP leaders expected to pick up more votes against overriding the veto from at least a couple of Republicans who were absent for the first SCHIP vote.
Asked Sunday about President Bush's suggestion that there was room for compromise on the size of the program, Pelosi said, "It's hard to imagine how we could diminish the number of children who are covered. The president calls himself the decider, and I don't know why he would want to decide that one child has health care and another does not."
House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina said if the veto is upheld, House Democrats should push for an even broader version of the children's health-care bill, even if it is opposed in the Senate.
He argued Democrats would gain politically if Republicans blocked the program.
"And let's say to them, go ahead, filibuster," he said. "Our base will understand what a filibuster is, the American people will understand what a filibuster is. They don't understand this 60-vote-rule business. But they remember which party filibustered against all the civil rights bills back in the '50s and '60s, and to have that same party stand up there and start filibustering against health care for children? Man, I would love that picture." E-mail to a friend
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